Screenwriters: Nick Santora, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Colin Salmon
Running Time: 103 mins
Attempting to be a far darker crime-fighting force than the Dark Knight himself, this reboot of The Punisher simply succeeds in being depressingly grim and tedious. A predictable plot and dreadful dialogue does a gross disservice to a decent cast, and the film pales in comparison to more narratively and visually inventive comic book adaptations.
War Zone's turbulent production history is far more gripping than the movie's own plot, with the star of the original 2004 Punisher movie Thomas Jane pulling out over script issues, followed by the proposed director John Dahl (best known for the sublime The Last Seduction). Even the original writer reportedly fought to remove his name from the project once he'd seen an early cut.
The bare bones of the storyline are nothing new, and eerily reminiscent of the clash between The Joker and Batman in Tim Burton's classic 1989 film. The titular hero inflicts severe facial wounds on a dastardly criminal, who has surgery, changes his name and recruits a small army to exact revenge. Here, we have Jigsaw (Dominic West) instead of The Joker, and a lot less entertainment too. Along the way, Frank 'The Punisher' Castle (Ray Stevenson) unwittingly kills an undercover FBI agent masquerading as a criminal, which prompts Agent Budiansky (Colin Salmon) to seek revenge.
All the plot threads play out exactly as one would expect, and any chance of the premise sustaining interest are thwarted by a quick descent into mindless and repetitive action sequences that are packed full of shock-free gore. As anti-hero and villain, Stevenson and West try their best and complement each other nicely in terms of their general brooding, yet they aren't given enough decent material to flex their acting muscles.
Still, they fare better than poor Colin Salmon, who has to contend with risible lines such as "you have the right to shut the f**k up" when arresting The Punisher, and barking out insults like "Krispy Kreme motherf**kers" to his fellow law-enforcement officers. Supposed to be one of Britain's finest acting talents, he must have one of the world's lousiest agents.
Despite these fundamental flaws, the visual style of the world that these characters inhabit is consistently impressive. Bathed in darkness and full of grime, the sets cleverly represent the psychological states of its inhabitants. It's nowhere near enough to salvage proceedings though.
"This is just the beginning," seethes The Punisher during the climactic battle, which gives way to a sickly sentimental ending. Let's hope that's an empty threat, as the franchise simply can't compete with better written and directed comic book offerings out there. This includes Howard The Duck...
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